Visual culture is as important in the Buddhist tradition as in any other of mankind’s great religions. What is expressed in the texts and practices also informs rich traditions of painting, sculpture and architecture, from India to Japan. While by their nature these also form part of the local artistic traditions, it can be as valuable and enlightening to study Buddhist art as it can to study, for instance, the Christian art found down the centuries in diverse countries across the globe.
Buddhist images may support a precise process of visualisation, part of a repertoire of practices designed to improve and indeed transform the quality of experience. Beauty is not so much valued for its own sake, nor does it serve to glorify an autonomous, external reality. Rather, it forms part of a process of inducing elevated states of understanding and consciousness which underpin ethical behaviour.
The archaeology of Buddhist buildings and monuments likewise reflects their purposes and functions, and helps us to understand the history of Buddhist institutions, from monasteries to pilgrimage.
Despite this, specialists in this field are throughout the world virtually confined to a few museums; there is no post devoted to this field at a British university. Courses dedicated to Buddhist art or archaeology are everywhere few and far between. If it helped to fill this gap, Oxford could thus make a unique contribution.
One would expect the holder of this Lectureship to have a broad understanding of the Buddhist tradition, its principles and institutions, so that they could give a survey course on Buddhist art which would be of interest to a wide audience. At the same time they would have specialist expertise in the Buddhist art and/or archaeology of at least one country. That expertise would include knowledge of the relevant language(s) and the historical context in which the Buddhist artefacts were created.